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7th September 2022 Palliative Care

Ask an Expert - Dr David Holden

Dr David Holden

The Northern Adelaide Palliative Service (NAPS) offers a multi-disciplinary approach to enhancing quality of life and encompasses all aspects of a person’s care needs including the physical, social, spiritual, psychological and emotional factors. We asked Dr David Holden, Medical Head of Unit at NAPS a few questions about his role and what palliative care means to him!

Briefly describe your current role at NAPS

I have the privilege to work with NAPS as the Medical Head of Unit. NAPS has recently established our vision as ‘Authentic, compassionate palliative care; supporting living and dying well.’ My role is to support our patients and carers, as well as our team in delivering this care.

What influenced you to work within palliative care? 

For me, core palliative care is about restoring and maintaining relationship and connection. For some patients, this may include family and friends, for others, their work and hobbies. Spiritual, cultural factors and functional ability as well as optimal symptom control are explored in palliative care. It is possible to both live well and die well, recognising death is a part of living. It is an incredibly positive specialty which is why I work in the field.

Talking to patients and families about death and dying can be difficult. How do you approach this?

Our community and clinicians can be uncomfortable talking about death. One of the roles of palliative care is to listen and address patient concerns, and to demystify dying which assists managing the future together. Studies show that patients have better symptom management and live and die better with jargon-free respectful communication – and clinicians have greater job satisfaction and less burnout. As a team, it helps provide better care and improves morale.

Is death and dying approached in a culturally and spiritually sensitive way in our society?

We have had the opportunity to research the delivery of palliative care for other cultures in Adelaide. For me it has shown the need to always look at the patient and family in the context of their culture and community. We deliver our best palliative care when we approach with curiosity and explore the needs of the whole person including their family, spiritual and cultural background.

What is one of your special memories within palliative care?

One of the privileges I had was to visit a patient at home. Loud rock music was blaring, a child was running around the room with a toy semi-trailer making brmmm noises at full volume, and the patient was gently bear hugged by two close friends. It seemed a sacred moment – and the invitation to share in this person’s vulnerability and life remains very special to me many years later.